Google's European legal teams aren't having the best year, to put it mildly. The European Commission went after not one, not two, but three of Google's businesses this year. The company's Android, advertising, and Internet search divisions all came up on the EC's radar for the same reason – antitrust laws, or anti-competitive practices, if you will. Now, antitrust law is a rather gray field and possibly even the murkiest area of corporate law. By its very definition, antitrust or competition laws are enacted to prevent predatory business practices from big business at the expense of smaller competitors and consumers.
In that context, antitrust laws are not a good thing; they're a great thing. Keeping big businesses in check and preventing them from stomping over smaller competitors almost always reflects positively on consumers because a non-competitive market leads to monopolies which consequently results in fewer options when it comes to spending money. Then again, is Google's Android the best example of such practices? That's a difficult claim to make seeing how Google doesn't exactly hold a monopoly on smartphones, and the same can be said about its advertising business which is heavily rivaled by Facebook. In other words, it's hard to argue that Google is abusing its monopoly power when it doesn't hold a monopoly. A company can't be a monopoly if there are viable competitors on the market.
However, virtually all complaints made by the European Commission regarding Google are ignoring Google's competitors in one way or another. The one about Android conveniently ignores the fact that there are other operating systems in existence and that Android itself doesn't prohibit related services which compete with Google's products developed for the said OS. The complaint against Google Search dismisses the existence of the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. Yes, Google Search is the dominant Internet search engine overall, but the European Commission's complaint is about people using it for fulfilling their shopping needs. In that context, there are plenty of other readily available services that users are choosing over Google Search.
Likewise, it's difficult to argue that Google is creating an anti-competitive environment for Android OEMs by pairing Android with its services. After all, it's not like OEMs even want to ship smartphones without apps like Google Play pre-installed. In addition to that, all large OEMs like Samsung install their own app stores on their devices anyway, which is competition by definition. To expand on the Android-related antitrust claims against Google, it's crucial to point out that Duo, Hangouts, and Allo combined don't have the same amount of users that the Facebook-owned WhatsApp or Messenger do, not even close. Furthermore, as Wired reports, 40% of all mobile Internet browsing now happens within the Facebook app. That's right, 40%. Frankly, if Google is abusing the dominance of its mobile operating system, it's doing a terrible job of it because it's losing market share left and right.
Let's look at the facts – the European Commission accused Google of restricting ways in which websites which use Google Search can display advertisements sold by companies that aren't Google. Furthermore, the European Commission recently laid out charges according to which Google used the dominant position of its search engine to harm online shopping services that aren't related to its own. Now, are there no other free search engines which offer website integration on the market? No, at least not if we are going to pretend the likes of Duck Duck Go and Bing don't exist. Is Google Chrome — the only desktop Internet browser on the market that defaults to Google Search — pre-installed on third-party computers? Finally, let's not forget that the complaint made by the European Commission against Google Search pertains exclusively to shopping-related searches. As stated above, Google has plenty of competition in that segment.
Last but not least, the European Commission also charged Google with abusing the dominance of the Android operating system to strong-arm original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and wireless providers into pre-installing Google Search and other company's services on their smartphones. If we play along with that and define the mobile market as just Android, how hard and expensive it is to install an alternative to something like Chrome or the Play Store within our imaginary market and do people need to buy an Android smartphone? The answer to those questions should be an obvious no. While the US and EU antitrust laws are not identical, the two systems not only actively cooperate when it comes to regulating potential antitrust violations in their respective jurisdictions, but they're also following the same spirit of the anti-competitive law – protecting consumers' choice. And saying that Google is stifling competition with Android and Google Search is saying that Android and Google Search constitute their own markets with no viable alternatives.
The very purpose of antitrust laws is to protect consumers. So, if Google is forced to abandon its practice of asking OEMs to pre-install some of its apps to use Android, it's difficult to see how that would ultimately help end users. In that scenario, Google would likely ask OEMs to pay for pre-installing its apps. As all phone manufacturers are in the business of making money and will do everything they can to avoid diminishing profit margins, it's not unreasonable to suggest that the cost of such licensing would be passed on to consumers. In that scenario, the European Commission would achieve a goal that directly opposes the very principle on which its antitrust laws were based. All in all, if the EC is willing to ignore the fact that every fourth smartphone in Europe is running iOS and that both Google Search and Google's advertising network have a lot of competition, it will set a rather dangerous precedent when it comes to regulating big businesses. While Google is far from perfect, it's as consumer-friendly as any multinational tech conglomerate with investments in virtually every industry that exists can get. If Android, an open source platform which gained traction precisely because it gives users more choice than its competitors is labeled as a tool for anti-competitive practices, what will that mean for the future of the tech industry? Only time will tell, but for now, Google is forced to defend itself against accusations that are debatable at best and divisive at worst.